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Condi Question: Is Unjustified 'Certitude' Lying?

A Question For Condi: Is Unjustified ''Certitude'' Lying?

By Dennis Hans

Here is the first question the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should pose to Condoleezza Rice Tuesday at her confirmation hearings for Secretary of State: Is it ''lying'' to say that something definitely is true when it is your understanding that this something ''might'' be true?

Most church-going folk — at least those with no connection to the Bush administration — would say that the situation just described is indeed lying.

If I suspect Dr. Rice of having stolen my wallet, but also realize that an innocent explanation — my penchant for misplacing my wallet — is a real possibility, and I proceed to go on national television and state as established fact that Dr. Rice stole my wallet, a decent, church-going type would say I lied. He or she would say I lied even if it turns out that Dr. Rice did steal my wallet, because I did not know that for a fact when I said it was a fact.

The good news is that Dr. Rice did not steal my wallet. But on September 8, 2002, shortly after the Bush administration launched its campaign to scare Americans to death over the threat of Iraqi WMD, Rice told CNN that those aluminum tubes Iraq was trying to covertly import are "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,” adding ominously that “we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” ( ).

At the very time she made that statement, she knew that experts within the government differed over the purpose and suitability of those tubes.

A truly ethical church-goer, armed with the same information, would have told CNN something like this: “The aluminum tubes are either for a nuclear program or for a non-nuclear purpose. One reason we need an aggressive inspections regime in place is so we can get definitive answers about those tubes and other aspects of Iraq’s nuclear program.”

The problem for us citizens back in 2002 is that we didn’t know the extent of Rice’s knowledge. We only found that out last fall, thanks to a lengthy story in the October 3 New York Times ( ) that revealed that key aides to Rice had known for more than a year that nuclear scientists at the Department of Energy regarded those tubes as very poorly suited as components of a nuclear centrifuge (perhaps impossibly so, for a host of technical reasons) but perfectly suited for non-nuclear rockets in Iraq’s conventional arsenal.

The morning the Times story appeared, Rice returned to the Sunday shows. Because she was questioned by the pathetic, poorly prepared Wolf Blitzer on CNN and George Stephanopoulos on ABC, she was never pinned down on the key question: Is it lying to express certitude when you know that certitude is not warranted?

Instead, she was able to dance around, asserting she knew about the intra-governmental debate about the tubes, though not the particulars. The hapless TV “journalists” did not press her on what exactly she did know about the debate. Rice also argued that in the post-911 environment the wise approach was to assume the worst: "a policymaker cannot afford to be on the wrong side, underestimating the ability of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein.” ( )

Left unasked was the obvious follow-up question to her dance:

“So why didn’t you say just that in 2002? We all would have understood the need to get inspectors in so we could get a definitive answer about those tubes. Instead you went on CNN and lied to the American people, telling us that the Bush administration KNEW that those tubes were for nuclear centrifuges, that those tubes had no other use. Why, Dr. Rice? Why?”

Let’s hope the senators who question Dr. Rice will not be as hapless as Blitzer and Stephanopoulos.


Bio: Dennis Hans ( is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg Prior to the Iraq war, Hans penned the prescient essays “Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His ‘Techniques of Deceit’ ( and “The Disinformation Age” (

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